Fankhausers have a small wind turbine 2009.10.17

Written by David Green. Posted in Feature Stories

fankhauser.barn.jpgBy DAVID GREEN

Some people buy a wind turbine with the idea of saving money on utility costs; others just like the idea of having one.

Put Marvin and Cindy Fankhauser in the latter category.

“It’s like a hobby for us,” Marvin said when a group of Morenci eighth grade science students came to have a look. “It saves us a little money, it gives us lights in a power outage and it’s a conversation piece.”

Marvin bought a small battery-charging turbine from WindBlue Power located in Kansas. The developers created a simple system that generates power with an alternator from a 1978 Camaro. Brush magnets are replaced with permanent magnets.

A three-phase current travels down from the top of the tower to a rectifier that feeds into a pair of golf cart batteries. Those batteries can be repeatedly drained and recharged without harm.

An inverter changes the power to household current.

The students came prepared with plenty of questions.

• Does it kill birds?

The number one killer of birds, Marvin said, is the window. An estimated 500 million birds die every year from collisions with windows.

Cats come in next at 100 million deaths and turbines trail at an estimated 6 million.

• Will snow or ice affect the operation of the turbine?

Ice might hamper it a little, Marvin said, but not much.

• How much did your turbine cost?

The tower has stood by the barn for 30 years, so there was no cost there. The turbine cost $474 and everything else down below in the barn cost about $900.

• Why did you buy a turbine?

This is when Marvin explained that it’s sort of a hobby. Maybe he’s acting a little ”green” or maybe he’s just being cheap, he said

Power from Consumers Energy is generated by coal and if he uses a little less of it, then that’s a little less coal burned.

“If everybody saved a little,” he said, “that would make a big difference.

“Since June, I haven’t used any electricity from Consumers for lights and power tools in the barn.”

He’s sharpened lawnmower blades and operated a variety of power tools with wind energy.

• What if it’s not windy?

Power is stored in the two batteries. His system can handle up to eight batteries.

Morenci is in a low area and won’t experience as much wind as other nearby areas, Marvin said. His tower is only 47 feet tall. The really large turbines stand up to 300 feet in the air. He’s been told there’s always some wind blowing by the time you reach the 120-foot level.

• Could your turbine survive major winds without damage?

WindBlue claims the unit can withstand a 100 mile an hour wind, Marvin said.

“My tower might not survive that,” he said.

It’s possible to create a braking system to slow the rotors down.

• Did your turbine come ready to use?

Marvin painted it and assembled the blades, then arranged the electrical components in the barn.

“It’s a pretty simple operation to do,” he said.

• How big is your turbine?

The blades are five feet from tip to tip.

• Would you buy it again?

In this area, he said, it’s questionable.

“There are two many obstructions,” he said. “Mrs. Fankhauser and I planted 185 trees on this land.”

The Fankhausers have had their turbine only since June and look forward to evaluating the operation after they go through the windy spring season.

• Does it attract lightning?

The tower used to, but since Pennington Gas erected a large tower several years ago, Fankhausers’ property has never been hit.

 • Did you have to obtain permits?

He didn’t need a permit for the tower since it’s been in place for three decades. There was nothing to work out with Consumers Energy since Fankhausers’ system is not connected to the electrical grid.

• What are the upkeep costs?

The turbine came with a 25-year warranty. Once a year nuts and bolts should be checked for tightness and the mounting pole should be greased.

• Do you think the school should buy a turbine?

“I think a turbine would be good for a learning application,” Marvin said, “but not to service the school [with electricity].”

• When will it pay for itself?

“Maybe never,” he said, but that’s the reason he bought it. “We bought it for a hobby, but it could run the freezer in a power outage and save a lot of food from rotting.”

According to company literature, four batteries could keep a large appliance operating for four days.

Besides that, he said, it could provide lights and warmth after a storm and that would make his wife very happy.

You can’t put a price on that feature.

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